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Shark-spotting drone to patrol Australian beaches

A specially designed drone will help to keep Australian swimmers and surfers safe from sharks and drowning. The so-called shark-spotting Westpac Little Ripper Lifesaver drone comes with special software that helps to identify swimmers, surfers, and sharks. The rescue drone also carries a flotation device that can be dropped to struggling swimmers and comes equipped with a loud speaker. We have reported on drones being sued by lifeguards in Australia in Perth and Queensland but the Little Ripper seems significantly more advanced.

Drone used in trial to keep beachgoers safe

The trial, which will be conducted until the end of January, which is the middle of summer in Australia, is organized in a partnership between Northern Beaches Council, the Australian Lifeguard Service (ALS) and The Ripper Group, the Daily Telegraph reports. Initially, the drones will be flown by pilots from the Ripper Group, before trained lifeguards will take over.

It is not just the hardware of the Little Ripper drone that is impressive. The most impressive feature may be the software that is able to identify between swimmers, surfers, and sharks.

Chief executive of Surf Life Saving NSW, Steve Pears said that lifeguards were looking forward to using the new technology this summer. He said:

“This really is an exciting opportunity to make use of 21st-century technology to enhance our traditional beach services. In those emergency situations where a child is caught in a rip or a rock fisher washed over the shelf, the Westpac Little Ripper could literally be the difference between life and death while lifeguards get to the location or other lifesaving services arrive to extract the person from the water.”

What do you think about drones being used by lifeguards on the beach? Do you think they would be useful on beaches in California and Florida where sharks are spotted frequently? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Shark Spotter explained

How does the shark spotting software work? Professor Michael Blumenstein, the Head of the School of Software in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology, University of Technology Sydney (UTS), is heading a team, that uses publicly available video footage from drones to develop an algorithm that will automatically detect sharks in the water. Once the algorithms are ‘trained’ and a ‘ground truth’ has been created, the software will be able to produce real-time object recognition and recognize sharks swimming in the water. The same method is also applied to recognize swimmers and surfers.


Shark-spotting drone to patrol Australian beaches

Video showing the Little Ripper in Action



Avatar for Haye Kesteloo Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Main Writer at DroneDJ, where he covers all drone related news and writes product reviews. He also contributes to the other sites in the 9to5Mac group such as; 9to5Mac, 9to5Google, 9to5Toys and Electrek. Haye can be reached at or @hayekesteloo